Carolyn Kogura was busy sourcing new inventory for the shelves of Maneki-neko cat statues, Japanese printing trays, and origami folding paper set displays. There is a plexiglass sign on the cash register next to the hand sanitizer, and the COVID-19 logs are posted on the window.
Kogura Co. Gifts is ready to reopen on Sunday after being closed for nearly eight months due to the pandemic. Kogura says she never doubted the gift shop in San Joses Japantown would reopen. After all, it has a 92 year old legacy to preserve.
Bob Kumamoto (left), Carolyn Kogura (center) and Richard Kogura took photos on October 30, 2020 in the store their grandfather Kohei Kogura opened in San Joses Japantown in 1928.
“You go through these doors and this is the only place in Japantown that looks exactly like it did before World War II,” he said Richard KoguraCarolyn’s brother.
Her grandfather, Kohei Kogura, opened the business in 1928 and it has been family-owned ever since. Stock levels have changed over the years – at one point radios were the best sellers, and in one corner of the store is a 1930s RCA Victor radio “Magic Eye” with a formal black and white framed photo of the Family from the same era rests on it.
Richard Kogura and Bob KumamotoHis cousin and a retired San Jose State history professor owe the company’s longevity not only to their family, but also to San Jose attorney JB Peckham, who helped Japanese families return to their homes and businesses after their internment during World War II.
Like John Heinlen, the German immigrant farmer who used his nearby land to build Heinlenville Chinatown, grew out of Japantown, Peckham was despised by San Jose residents for doing the right thing. They entrusted him with their land and their belongings and he gave them back after the war.
The Kogura and Kumamoto families are betting heavily on the future of Japantown. They own the brick building next door, believed to be the oldest in Japantown, dating from 1890, and they are starting a restoration plan with Jim Salata of Garden City Construction. He’s also working on the renovation of Kogura Co.’s vintage neon sign on Jackson Street, which has seen some changes over the decades and will be changed again in the coming months. The phrase “Oriental Arts” is replaced by “Established 1928”, both a nod to the company’s legacy and an understanding of the modern sensibilities that disapprove of the once-common description used by Asians.
Richard Kogura hopes the reopening will bring more activity to Japantown, which has been slowly returning over the past few months. “People are excited,” he said. “As soon as we open up, there will be more stores for people to go to.”
“OLD TIMES” WITH OLD FRIENDS: Do you remember the famous zoom bombs that happened at the Los Altos Stage Company board meetings this summer? It actually became a very special event for the Peninsula theater company, which took place on November 8th.
Theater, film and television stars Polly Draper, Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub will perform a livestream reading of Harold Pinter’s “Old Times”, a play about a married couple that is visited by his wife’s old roommate – and their very complicated connections. Interestingly, Adams and Shalhoub are married, and Draper has been a long-time friend of both of them.
“We all love the play and it suits the three of us perfectly,” Draper said in a press release, noting that she and Shalhoub had learned and performed a scene from the play while attending the Yale School of Drama. During this time, she met Adams on a local Connecticut production and performed with them. The three have been friends for 40 years. Draper is also friends with the board member of the Los Altos Stage Company Vivian Lufkinwhich got this whole ball rolling in the beginning.
Tickets for the 5:00 p.m. livestream reading are $ 50 per household, and a limited number of VIP tickets are available for $ 750. These include access to a virtual post-show reception with the actors and a wine and cheese basket delivered to your home. For more information, please visit losaltosstage.org.
FASHIONABLE FUNDRAISER: NBC Bay Area co-anchor “Today in the Bay” Laura Garcia will host a virtual event on November 12th for the Grand View League, the American Cancer Society’s fundraising arm, to raise funds for cancer research. She will be joined by three cancer researchers, including two funded by the Grand View League’s research funding initiative.
In addition to the research discussion, the 4pm “Design & Discovery” event also features an interactive fashion lookbook, online shopping boutiques (including Susie O’s handbags, Social Butterflies LA and Moonlite Couture) and a silent auction. For more information, visit acscacam.ejoinme.org/grandviewleague.
WALKING TALL: The big applause this week goes on Blake Mosher, a 22-year-old Morgan Hill resident participating in the Virtual Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) One Walk this weekend. The task he challenged himself with is to run 70 miles on the Bay Ridge Trail from Skyline Ridge Preserve to the Golden Gate Bridge in 24 hours from sunrise on Saturday.
What makes this even more amazing and meaningful is that Mosher was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes six years ago as a junior in high school. A support crew will be with him on the challenge, including an endocrinologist who will remotely check his glucose levels. When he gets to the bridge, we hope he’ll take the rest of Sunday off – and off his feet.